An expert witness’s testimony can be incredibly impactful at trial. Though, their involvement is just as valuable—if not more—when first assessing the case’s merits.
An expert’s initial review, research, assessment, and valuation of a potential lawsuit is a critical first step when taking on a new case. This is particularly true when the attorney might not be well-versed in the underlying subject matter. Whether the lawsuit involves scientific, medical, or technical concepts, an expert in their respective field can efficiently determine the viability of the case. In addition, an expert can identify the best strategies when going forward with litigation. Below are just a few ways in which an expert may help during early case assessment.
A case may seem straightforward on its face. But many attorneys have experienced cases that become more complicated as they unpack and analyze the facts and evidence. Even the savviest of attorneys may not recognize a case’s pitfalls during a preliminary review of the records. This is why an expert trained in the subject matter at issue can provide invaluable insight early in the litigation process.
Medical records, for example, can be notoriously voluminous and dense. A medical expert is far more experienced in reviewing records. As such, they can determine a case’s viability in a relatively short amount of time in comparison to an attorney.
If a case is complex enough to warrant an expert, then an expert should handle the record and evidence review as well. The earlier an expert reviews the evidence available to them, the earlier an assessment of the case can begin. Plus, attorneys can avoid taking a meritless case.
Assessing & Developing Facts
Reviewing records and developing the facts go hand-in-hand, but are not one and the same. The records are an important part of any case assessment. But, how the records fit into the bigger picture of presenting and proving the facts is another issue. Ideally, an expert will be able to review the available evidence. Additionally, an expert will be able to craft a case theory that makes sense and is supported by the record. For example, a plaintiff in an automobile accident may have a plethora of medical records to prove their injuries. But how do the injuries relate specifically to the claim? Can an injury signify the point of impact or the speed of the crash? It’s important that experts go beyond just identifying the facts. The case requires an expert who can explain these questions in a way that develops the case theory and strategy.
Applying the Standard of Care to Determine Liability
Similarly, in order to properly assess a case, the issues of causation and liability are paramount. When filing a lawsuit under a negligence theory, the plaintiff must prove:
- The defendant owed them a duty of care
- The defendant breached that duty
- The breach caused the plaintiff’s injury
- The plaintiff suffered damages.
Therefore, an expert should first and foremost define their industry’s standard of care. Next, the expert must explain how the defendant breached it. In cases of medical malpractice, this would be “any act or omission by a physician during the treatment of a patient that deviates from accepted norms of practice in the medical community…” Of course, the “accepted norms of practice” will be case-specific. These details are dependent upon the defendant physician’s specialty and sub-specialty. This demonstrates why an expert is all the more needed.
However, just because a defendant breached the requisite standard of care does not mean they necessarily caused the injuries. Causation in the legal context that may hold a defendant liable is referred to as proximate causation. That is, the defendant’s negligence directly caused the injury. But there are a number of factors that may contribute to a plaintiff’s injuries that are completely independent of any action by a defendant (i.e., a plaintiff’s existing injury prior to an accident). Therefore, when assessing whether a defendant can be held liable for their conduct, an expert must evaluate any and all variables that could have arguably contributed to the injury.
Conducting Inspections and Testing
Experts can assess a case in other ways beyond reviewing documentary evidence. They can also inspect and test the subject matter at issue themselves. Medical experts, for example, may conduct initial examinations of a plaintiff to determine their injuries. An accident reconstructionist may inspect the site of a crash. An engineering expert can test a product to determine if it was defectively manufactured or designed. After all, an expert’s opinion must be based on sufficient facts or data that is the product of reliable principles and methods. Hands-on inspections and testing in the early stages can create a strong foundation for the case.
On-Call Medical Expertise
Through Expert Institute’s Case Clinic service, attorneys are able to access on-demand consultation with a team of physicians. This on-call medical expertise is especially crucial, and valuable, in the early case stages. Expert Institute physicians can quickly screen a potential case for merit before attorneys put firm time or resources into the matter. The medical team is also available for record reviews or to assist with deciphering medical terminology and topics. With Case Clinics, medical case prep is enhanced from the very first step. Thus, legal teams can pursue the most valuable cases with the smartest strategic approach.